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Inside NIC: A Discussion with Community Services Division Chief Jim Cosby
By Donna Ledbetter, National Institute of Corrections, Research and Information Services Division
Published: 02/20/2012

Jimcosby 2012feb17 In 2011, Jim Cosby joined the National Institute of Corrections as the division chief of the newly formed Community Services Division. The division encompasses the work formerly assigned to NIC’s divisions for Transition/Offender Workforce Development and Community Corrections as well as new initiatives addressing the management issues of various inmate populations and continued reentry programming.

Donna Ledbetter, writer/editor for NIC, interviews Cosby for an exclusive Corrections.com interview. Cosby answers publicly some questions about the direction in which the new Community Services division is heading while shedding light on his philosophical approach to corrections and community corrections management.

Donna Ledbetter. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview for Corrections.com. Before we dig deep into your corrections work with NIC, please share a bit about your background.

Jim Cosby: Thanks, Donna. It’s my pleasure. I started as a probation officer in Tennessee and held every line position within the agency. I worked a caseload, conducted pre-sentence investigations , supervised an intensive supervision unit, and then moved up through the ranks. I served as Regional Director in Knoxville and later as State Director of Probation & Parole.

My last service was as Assistant Commissioner of Rehabilitative Services for the Tennessee Department of Correction where I worked on inmate programming and reentry issues. I retired after 33 years of service and accepted the Chief’s job with NIC in August of 2011.

DL: You’ve had quite an impressive career. What has been your biggest surprise since coming to NIC?

JC: My biggest surprise has been the actual size of the Institute. We have only 44 full time positions, including staff at the National Corrections Academy. But I must say, I think we really have a tremendous impact on field operations across the country. I also know NIC has been the leader in innovations such as TPC (Transition from Prison to the Community), reentry work, and management development since at least 2000. I think we get a lot of bang for the buck and affect positive change for a relatively small investment.

DL: Yes, that’s quite true. Now, shifting gears for a moment, let’s talk about the work you do relative to corrections as a whole. What is your operational philosophy?

JC: Three simple words can sum it up: teamwork, communication, and innovation.

DL: How does this translate to the work you do in the Community Services Division?

JC: Well, I find we are more effective when we work as a team, and I preach that to my staff regularly. Further, many operational problems can be avoided with effective communication practices. Staff members function better and contribute more when they are in the know about operational issues, and it is much better to over communicate than under communicate.

Innovation is the lifeblood of NIC, and facilitating communication with staff stirs that innovation. The Community Services Division (CSD) team amazes me with their ability to be innovative, and many of the projects we are working on are on the cutting edge of correctional practice.

DL: What are some of those “cutting edge” projects you’re working on?

JC: First, there’s Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM). It’s one of the projects that have the potential to change the way we manage community corrections processes across the country. It involves a collaborative effort at the local level where all the partners are better informed and use evidence-based approaches during every decision point into the system.

For example, the police officer on the beat would be better informed about a decision to arrest a person who exhibits mental health issues, the judge uses a validated assessment tool when considering bail and sentencing decisions, and the probation officer uses the same evidence-based approach when interviewing or supervising an offender.

DL: EBDM is in phase three now, the implementation phase, in several states across the country. Is that correct?

JC: Yes, we have seven pilot sites that are now entering the implementation phase of the project. The initial results indicate the outcomes will have a significant impact on future practices within the criminal justice system, resulting in safer communities.

DL: What other projects are underway?

JC: The Transition from Prison to the Community (TPC) and Transition from Jail to the Community (TJC) Initiatives have provided the guiding principles of the current evidence-based reentry work. We are discovering new methods in every effort we have supported, and this improves our practices.

Further, our work in Offender Workforce Development and Offender Employment Retention are providing community corrections staff with cutting edge training that has produced vastly improved methods to manage offender employment issues. We all know offenders are more successful when they find and keep employment, and this is an important project.

In addition, our training for new parole executives and parole board members has shaped and continues to shape the leadership across the country in this vital part of the system.

DL:You are also working on projects that address the safety and security of special populations. Can you tell us about that?

JC: Of course. We have two major projects going on that deal with justice-involved women and the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) population.

Our project regarding justice-involved women is greatly impacting how womenare being managed in corrections.

In addition, our division has posted a series of e-courses on the NIC website that provide the latest research and guidance about justice-involved women. If I were a warden of a female facility or a regional manager of a community corrections program, I would require all my staff to go through these e-learning courses.

As with our work focusing on justice-involved women, we are developing evidence-based information and best practices to create solutions to a more effective means of managing the safety and security of the LGBTI population. LGBTI issues are seen as an emerging issue due to changes in state and federal legislation such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the inclusion of gender in human rights statutes. Information about this is currently available on our website.

Overall, these projects are intended to improve the processes and outcomes within the community corrections field, and I know from comments from the field that we are having a positive impact.

DL: It seems you’re doing a lot of forward thinking. So, tell me, from your experience in corrections and the work you do with your staff at the National Institute of Corrections, what does the future of community corrections look like?

JC: I think it will reflect more collaboration at the state, local, and federal level to better leverage our resources. For example, the Federal Reentry Council now involves over 20 federal agencies and focuses on breaking down the federal barriers regarding reentry.

I also think many jurisdictions will come to follow the model being developed in NIC’s Evidence-Based Decision Making Initiative or BJA’s Justice Reinvestment project. We simply have to break down the silos in the system and share information across boundaries in order to better manage offenders and protect the public.

I further believe we are moving toward a system where we will begin to change old practices and move toward those supported by the evidence and research that has been proven to work and improve public safety. It will be a more supportive and less adversarial approach for supervision. Officers who use effective skills learned through training such as motivational interviewing or offender workforce development will be more effective at changing offender behavior. And that will produce positive outcomes and reduce further victims in the community, which is our priority.

For more information about the projects currently underway at the National Institute of Corrections, please visit NIC online at www.nicic.gov. Jim Cosby is the division chief of the NIC Community Services Division and Donna Ledbetter is the writer/editor for the National Institute of Corrections.


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